Becoming a Paralegal with Clyde & Co
For many aspiring solicitors, securing a paralegal role can be a significant step in the journey towards qualification. As part of the foundation of a law firm, paralegals provide essential support to lawyers through a wide range of duties, making it something of a golden ticket to gaining legal experience (and then spring boarding into training contract applications).It’s also fairly common for many law firms to recruit trainees from within their paralegal pool. As Melanie Mooney, partner at Clyde & Co, puts it, “it comes down to getting the right people with the right skills for the job, and I think this attracts such a huge diversity of people to the industry.”
Paralegalling is now opening up as a more formal path into the profession. When the Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination was launched in 2021, it was heralded as a way of making the profession more accessible to a wider group of people. One of the key changes was creating more flexibility by removing the requirement to undergo a formal training contract with one employer. Now, the requirement for qualification is 24 months of legal work experience with up to four employers, paving the way for paralegals (and solicitor apprentices)to qualify after two years of work experience, and successfully completing the SQE 1&2 exams.
Hence the launch of Clyde & Co’s latest alternative programme, the Paralegal Academy…
The Paralegal Academy
Clyde & Co’s Paralegal Academy brings together all of the firm’s paralegals in the casualty group for formalised training. “The goal is for them to stay with the firm through the Paralegal Academy and be retained as qualified solicitors in the casualty practice two to three years later,” says partner Mark Hemsted. “Within the first two years, they’ll spend time in two different areas to give them more wide-ranging experience.”
After Clyde & Co merged with BLM in 2022it created a huge casualty practice, spanning “anything involving personal injury, property litigation, regulatory, disease, and credit hire, from small value claims to catastrophic injury claims in the fields of motor, employer’s liability, public liability and fraudulent claims,” says Hemsted. Quite the range! “So we require a large number of paralegals to fulfil all of our roles at any one time, and we have a large number of requirements for NQ solicitors. This provides us with the route by which we intend to fulfil those roles.”
The programme takes two years for law and LLM graduates, and three years for those with a non-law qualification. Whatever your background, as long as you have a UK bachelor’s 2:2 degree or above in any subject (or equivalent qualification), you can apply, and your journey to becoming a confident fully-fledged paralegal can begin. Successful participants in the programme will progress onto the SQE via the Graduate Solicitor Apprentice route at the University of Law.
The paralegal programme is primarily based out of the firm’s biggest office in Manchester, but it’s also offered across the firm’s casualty operations in Southampton, Bristol, London, Liverpool, and Newcastle, as well as Northern Ireland and Scotland. The Academy will have up to 40 on the programme across offices, spread across two annual intakes of around 20. “From the first week, paralegals will be involved in formal technical training, and thereafter have team-specific training on an ongoing basis, which will develop them through to the newly qualified solicitor level,” says Hemsted.
Their responsibilities will increase throughout the programme as Mooney explains: “From day one, there will be lots of reading around different types of work. Paralegals will be encouraged to read the file, and get a feel for how the matter has progressed to see what type of tasks they’d be asked to do, and then progress to less complex court tasks such as what, when, and how you need to serve.” She says“the last task will be briefing counsel for a trial. They get the full experience of the file without having to make the ultimate decision on it.” The eventual goal is “for paralegals to progress to dealing with lower-value files.”
But while the academy standardises training to a degree, Mooney says “no two paralegals will have the same journey. Paralegals who consistently meet targets, obtain exceptional supervisor feedback, and possess authentic motivation will be supported to achieve their personal career goals!”
When it comes to thriving as a paralegal, Mooney says what really makes someone succeed is “having a thirst for knowledge, making an effort to find out the answer, and figuring out why the answer is what it is." As Melanie Mooney, partner at Clyde & Co, elaborates, “it comes down to getting the right people with the right skills for the job, and I think this attracts such a huge diversity of people to the industry.”
Moreover, a solid standard of organisational and academic ability is essential, says Hemsted:“The best candidates are often people who can manage a large number of facts at any one time. If you can mould the academic and organisational ability, then you have your super paralegal.”
And Hemsted should know – “I started off as a paralegal (a long time ago!) and got my training contract through that route,” he tells us. “It’s a very good way of finding out if the law is for you. And as an entry-level position, it is a chance to show that you have the capability to succeed onto the qualified path.”
But what do some of the firm’s paralegals have to say about it all? Without further ado, over to them…
Chambers Student: So, what motivated you to become a paralegal at Clyde & Co?
Phoebe Kelly, London: I studied geography at university, and it wasn’t until a year or so in that I realised that I wanted to work in the legal industry. I got work experience at some other firms, and I really enjoyed the collaborative environment of working. I actually started at a local firm to get as much experience as possible before applying, as Clyde & Co are renowned in the insurance industry; it is the bread and butter of what we do here, and that was always the goal for me.
Jack Leake, Manchester: I did a history degree, followed by the GDL and LPC. Following, a big hole in my CV was legal work experience. I saw that Clyde & Co was advertising, and I knew the firm was very big in litigation and insurance, with big insurer clients like Direct Line. I’ve always had an interest in dispute resolution, and so thought, what better way than to get experience at a firm like Clyde & Co?
Theodor Gabriel Pana, London: What motivated me was the desire to get experience and knowledge of the industry to perform better in future training applications. I had an eye on the insurance sector, which is a serious stronghold for Clyde & Co. But also, it was the opportunity to develop in a well-rounded firm that was known for being serious about training its people.
CS: Could you describe your day to day?
PK: I have a dual role as a senior equity partner's assistant and paralegal in IFPD (insurance financial professional disputes), which is an amazing opportunity for someone so early on in their career as I get to do both the admin and billing side and fee-earing side, giving me exposure to both the back and front ends of the job. There is too much to put into words! I get to do legal research, drafting of engagement letters for new clients, and witness statements. Sometimes solicitors will ask you to research a very specific area of law. At the minute we have a case in Colombia, and I’ve been asked to research what qualifies as a circumstance (with insurance, you are covered under your policy on circumstances), so I’m getting into the legal jargon of what a circumstance can arise out of, and how people might interpret it in different jurisdictions.
JL: In credit hire (which falls under the motor claims), my day to day is running a file from start to finish. We get files from insurer clients, and often when it comes to us the client does not agree on the amount that has been claimed, and sometimes the rates are ridiculous, so you have to look at whether it is genuine or not. For example, when I’m allocated a file, I write a report and acknowledgement of services, look to draft the defense, and speak to the insurers and the claimants' solicitors to see if I can get an amicable early settlement. I haven’t had any go to trial, but should any go to trial I will be instructing counsel.
TGP: In the data protection team, I assist the team generally across various workstreams in the area of pre-action disclosure, such as the project and business development side. For business development, I’m required to put together contracts, and sometimes letters of engagement. In certain circumstances I’m even managing invoicing or projects generally.
CS: What’s been a work highlight for you?
PK: I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved in a case involving a warehouse fire and was asked by the senior equity partner to attend the witness interviews and discussions of statements. We met the clients and had discussions with them over coffees, and it was nice to get a feel for the client and their stake in the case in person rather than over email, and understand that you’re doing your job helping these people.
JL: For me, I was able to settle in our client's favour using negotiation tactics on a decent amount of claims for someone who has just started fee earning. So, I’ve had a few nice settlements. I haven’t had any trials yet which I am looking forward to!
TGP:A general highlight for me is being involved in the correspondence exchange process with a claiming law firm. From a personal perspective, it is a good development opportunity as you get to learn about pre-action protocol, which is a key litigation area. It requires even someone at a junior level managing various lines of communication well and I would say it is probably my favourite task.
CS: How do you see your career progression and future?
PK: At the minute the goal is to gain as much experience and exposure as possible to then apply internally. I do see myself staying for a long period given the progression opportunities here. There are other routes at Clyde’s which I think are important – for example, you can be promoted from paralegal to litigation executive. But yes, the goal is to become a trainee and qualify at Clyde’s and work with some of the most talented people in the industry.
JL: The aim is to get qualified through the internal training route. I am going to apply for the funded SQE route and complete the necessary qualifying work experience. I will stay on at Clyde’s whether that is in credit hire, or another team.
TGP: A legal career at a junior level is unpredictable, so I would like to emphasis having a plan but staying flexible. I need to start my LLM SQE course, and then come back to the firm to complete the two-year training contract. Depending on how that goes, I’d like to either qualify at the London office or internationally if that is an option. I secured my training contract through the internal scheme offered at Clyde’s.
CS: Any advice for aspiring paralegals?
PK: It’s not the end of the world if you don’t know what you want to do at school or college. There are so many different ways of becoming a solicitor these days, such as the new SQE, which are accessible to people from different backgrounds. It is important for the younger generation to bear in mind that anyone can do it, and just don’t give up on applying to these big firms like Clyde & Co.
JK: Find a team that will support your development going forward. You are more likely to have come out of university and aren’t experienced in the workplace, so having a supportive environment is important. Try to get a firm that aligns with what you are interested in or want to qualify into. If you are interested in dispute resolution or insurance, Clyde & Co is great for that. Consider your plans going forward. For people like myself, paralegalling is not the end goal but the first step towards qualification.
TGP: Stay proactive, regardless of whether it is applying for a job within a student society, or attending a pro bono law clinic. Look for exposure to legal work of essentially any kind that would allow you to understand more about the industry and that could be used to help an application or interview. Always try to put forward a story when applying and explain in your own words the steps you’ve taken to get to that point, and what your future interests are.